The Pursuit of Excellence — Michael Jordan is not a Perfectionist

Perfectionism is a destination. Excellence is a journey.

The Pursuit of Excellence — Michael Jordan is not a Perfectionist

Perfectionism is a destination. Excellence is a journey.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

— Michael Jordan

The current series on Netflix ‘The Last Dance’ is a great documentary about the rise of the Chicago Bulls team. It chronicles the life of its main star, Michael Jordan. You cannot but feel inspired by the sheer raw talent, shaped by a strong work ethic to be the best of the best amongst great players. He was hyper-competitve, and is not afraid of getting in people’s faces.

He holds himself up to such high standards and expects you to do the same. Yet he is someone who won’t tell others what he himself wouldn’t do.

Make no mistake, Michael Jordan is NOT a perfectionist.

Perfection vs Excellence — How to Handle Failure

For the next part of the story, let me introduce the main characters — Perfection and Excellence.

Perfection always come well prepared with questions. They check through everything and make sure they everything is ready and in place. Underneath the veneer of competency, is a duck paddling underwater. If you tell them they are doing a good job, you are more likely to hear “Oh no, I didn’t do this or that yet”.

Excellence is always first in, last out. A highly reliable person when it comes to getting projects done. They have an air of confidence around them. Doing a good job is not enough, they always strive to be better. And not just better at one thing, they tend to dabble in many things and do them equally well.

Each of them have their own sets of high expectations and standards. Here is where they differ in my opinion— how they handle failure.

Perfection beat themselves down as they don’t believe they have produced their best work. Internally, they struggle and their expectations of perfection often leave them stressed or anxious. Perfection has that nagging fear of failure. It’s not surprising when you aim for the unobtainable ideal of perfection that you fail. The result? A fear to try.

Excellence recognises the effort that goes into the goal even if that means failing. They know that it means the best that you can give, irrespective of whether that is enough. Excellence is always on the path towards greatness because they are willing to put in the work. They don’t fear failure and see it as a great teacher. Failure is the fuel that propels Excellence.

Now, which would you rather be?

The truth is that the best way to achieve excellence is by not demanding perfection.

Excellence is having a Growth mindset
The Jordan Dome

Watching ‘The Last Dance’, we get to see firsthand how strong Michael Jordan’s will to win is. He pushed himself and his team mates hard. He took his practice seriously as if playing a real game. The story goes that while filming Space Jam, he got Warner Bros to build him a basketball facility for him to work. He would film from 7am to 7pm, then practice basketball at the ‘Jordan dome’ for another 3 hours.

Having a winning mentality is not enough. Everyone wants to win. What differentiates and sets Jordan apart from his peers is a combination of a fierce will to win with a growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset? Here’s how it looks like:

  1. Embrace challenges
  2. Persist in the face of setbacks
  3. See effort as the path to mastery
  4. Learn from criticism
  5. Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others
We may not all win NBA Championships, but we can all embrace a growth mindset.

Practice makes Progress — No Shortcut to Excellence

The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better today. — Simon Sinek

Jordan is not someone who fears failure, he embraces it. So if you desire to pursue excellence in your life, embrace failure.

I can tell you that while I am not a perfectionist, I am afraid to fail. Don’t we all? That fear has made me procrastinate on many important things and sometimes, stop trying altogether. Talk is easy. Action is not.

Maybe you struggle with fear of failure.

You want a business but fear that if you start it you will fail.

Procrastinating on a deadline because you fear it will never be good enough.

Don’t try new things or things that are hard because you fear it will fail.

It is common to have fear of failure. I reckon that none of us want to look bad to others. Why do you think there are so many people wanting to find out the ‘secrets to success’? People pay money to avoid shame and failure.

Instead, change your perspective and have a growth mindset. Start to put in the reps in your pursuit of excellence. Guess what, the fear doesn’t go away. But as you get better every day, you learn to handle it and control it.

Rather than focus on failure, focus on how you can get better today. Progress is your goal, not perfection.

This, is the pursuit of excellence.